The last time Rhonda Vincent played Roots, it was on her run of duo shows with the mighty-voiced legend Gene Watson. It was great. Soaring and blue. Deeply country. But it did leave me craving a set of her audaciously clear and powerful bluegrass music. She is, after all, a seven-time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year and one of the most beloved artists in the world of classic bluegrass. But this Wednesday, after years of waiting, we’ll feature Rhonda and her band The Rage amid a diverse night at Roots. The season is winding down, but there’s nothing wound down about Vincent’s approach to roots music.
She was the quintessential family band kid, growing up in small town Missouri as a precocious singer and performer in The Sally Mountain Show, playing a variety of instruments and getting steeped in the life. Her solo career kicked off with a win on a TNN talent show and touring with Grand Ole Opry star Jim Ed Brown. Her first albums were in the bluegrass vein, but she got noticed by Music Row and she was able to release a couple of country discs in the mid 1990s. By 2000 she was, as her Rounder Records album debut declared, Back Home Again in bluegrass music, where she quickly became a leading artist, releasing a string of superb albums. Rhonda’s voice is one of our music’s treasures. It’s translucent and illuminated and almost unnaturally strong. She turns a phrase with grace and emotion, whether its ‘grass or torchy traditional country.
Vincent’s new album nods in both directions at once with an interesting approach: two six-song CDs, comprising a country “side” and a bluegrass “side.” We get to hear her crack band tackle some classic songs like “Once A Day,” and there’s a duet with Willie Nelson. The project, called Only Me, is the 18th album of her solo career. But even as a seasoned veteran, the hosannas keep rolling in. Just last month Rhonda Vincent and The Rage were named Entertainers of the Year at the other big bluegrass music awards, an outfit acronymed SPBGMA that is more keyed to the timeless and traditional strains of the music. A brand new, bright blue Martha White tour bus appears to be the latest news from Rhonda Land, marking a renewal of a sponsor relationship that elevated bluegrass in the 1950s between Martha White Flour and Flatt & Scruggs. We’ll ask her about it.
Emerging singer Teea Goans has a similarly titled album (albeit her second, not her 18th) called That’s Just Me and a similar story to Vincent’s. Small town Missouri. Check. Singing from five years old. Check. Teea has followed her muse to every place that would let her sing, but classic country is her touchstone. She took a job a few years ago working with our beloved announcer Keith Bilbrey on the Opry warm-up show, which put her in a wonderland of musical heroes. She’s channeled what she’s heard and learned into a beautiful and timeless sound that swings, two-steps and sometimes settles into a more luxurious setting with background vocals and countrypolitan touches. Steel and fiddle are constant companions. Her voice is velvety and sweet. This should fit in with past Roots sets by Amber Digby and Connie Smith.
The rest of the night touches many bases. We’re excited to hear the latest iteration in the career of Nashville’s Doug and Telisha Williams, who’ve tooled up as a power trio with drummer Jake Winebrenner under the name The Wild Ponies. The duo’s album Ghost of the Knoxville Girl won me over with its country/folk acoustic textures and lonesome archetypal characters. Now things have more wire and hum and buzz. The songs on their new album When Things Used To Shine are tough-minded and rocking. We get more of Doug’s fine electric guitar playing and Telisha’s voice has never sounded more confident or stirring.
Cabinet is an interesting band out of the Scranton, PA area that would fit on stages nicely with Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth or Keller Williams. And in fact this sextet has gigged with those very bands and more at festivals like Philly Folk and Floyd Fest. Their banjo and fiddle are prominent, giving them a grassy touch, but the swirling Dead-style freedom lets their music float and swirl. I’m looking forward to it. And we’ll also feature Don “Doop” Duprie, who’s been hailed as the finest songwriter going in Detroit. A laid off fire fighter who found his voice as an artist, he’s got plenty of steel and grit in his approach to country music, whether under his own name or as part of his band The Inside Outlaws (why did nobody think of that name before?).
So you know where to find us as we show off many of the sides of Americana music. We never know exactly what it’s going to look or sound like. It’s why we stay interested.